The Diminished Mind

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In a very moving book, Jean Tyler, the founder and former president of the first Alzheimer’s support group in America, tells the story of the pain and grief her family experienced during the years her husband Manley steadily deteriorated and ultimately died from Alzheimer’s. With the help of professional writer Harry Anifantakis, she chronicles the progressive toll of the disease on her husband and its impact on each family member.

Manley Tyler developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the spring of 1971 when he was forty-two years old, but his condition was only diagnosed in December, 1978. Meanwhile his unsuspecting family had to cope with confusing personality and behavioral changes caused by the progressive disintegration of his memory and judgment. A successful high school principal, Manley abruptly resigned his position and began a series of less demanding jobs until he was unable to perform even simple tasks.

Negative behaviors such as incessant questioning, getting lost, losing things, and delusions alternated with brief comebacks, until bizarre and disruptive behavior became the norm. His wife invested tremendous energy in trying to make life seem normal as Manley slowly deteriorated before her eyes. The shift in roles, financial burdens, burnout among caregivers, and gradual isolation from friends and community contributed to the family’s sense of loss, lowered self-esteem, guilt, and anger. Eventually Manley became unpredictably hostile and violent, especially to his young son, who was forced to move out of the home. His married daughter responded to his condition with denial and unrealistic optimism, until he was institutionalized in 1981. He died in 1986.

In recent years, public awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease has increased, but families still suffer from ignorance and intolerance. The Tyler story, with its touches of humor and human courage, has the power to inspire families coping with Alzheimer’s to gain insights into their problems and to believe in their inner resources of strength and understanding. Helpful appendices include information about the disease, caregiver’s needs, and resources.